NSW planning laws ‘intolerable’ for lifting home builds

Jack Gramenz and Maeve Bannister |

The NSW government has targeted dozens of suburbs for increased housing density.
The NSW government has targeted dozens of suburbs for increased housing density.

NSW Premier Chris Minns has defended proposed changes to boost housing density across major urban centres, saying current settings are “intolerable” for affordability and supply. 

The premier is facing a backlash from local councils, which argue they have not been provided with enough information about the changes.

Weeks before Christmas, the Labor government announced a major planning overhaul that included a goal of building 210,000 new dwellings near 40 current or future transport hubs in greater Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

The proposed precincts – including many in heritage-protected areas – will be subject to increased density.

Dual occupancies, such as duplexes, will also be allowed in all low-density residential areas, many of which are currently characterised by single homes on large blocks.

NSW Premier Chris Minns
Chris Minns says councils will still be able to reject development proposals for valid reasons. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Minns insisted councils would still need to approve dual-occupancy requests, but the reforms would limit their ability to reject them.

“The council still has the right to assess that application on a whole bunch of other measures,” he said on Monday, citing local sewerage and transport infrastructure as well as building characteristics like sunlight and room sizes.

Terraces, townhouses and manor houses are currently only permitted in six per cent of low-density residential zones across Sydney, according to the Department of Planning.

“Units in particular have been outlawed, as have terraced houses, and that’s an intolerable situation when we’ve got a housing crisis,” Mr Minns said.

Under the changes, terraces, townhouses and two-storey unit blocks would be allowed near transport hubs and town centres across the “six cities” region of greater Sydney, the Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra.

Mr Minns said the planning overhaul would not fundamentally transform cities like Sydney, but they were needed in a state that lagged others like Victoria and Queensland in completions per capita.

“We need to do something about it because young people, in particular, have not got housing,” he said.

Opposition planning and housing spokesman Scott Farlow criticised the proposed changes.

“(Mr) Minns is telling communities to get out of the way, yet doesn’t know the impact of his lazy one size fits all planning policies,” Mr Farlow wrote on social media site X, formerly Twitter.

“He claimed that councils can refuse development – they can’t,” Mr Farlow said, sharing a post from Sydney radio 2GB after Mr Minns was interviewed on Monday morning.

Planning Minister Paul Scully said councils can still refuse development on a range of grounds and accused the opposition of spreading a false narrative.

“I offered (Mr) Farlow a brief on these reforms, and he said no, so it’s no wonder he’s confused,” Mr Scully said on Monday.

“Councils can still assess and refuse development on a whole range of grounds like light and space and design and to say they can’t, is nothing short of scaremongering,” he said.